Method and Materiality in the Phenomenology of Intersubjectivity

By Bruzina, Ronald | Philosophy Today, January 1, 1997 | Go to article overview

Method and Materiality in the Phenomenology of Intersubjectivity


Bruzina, Ronald, Philosophy Today


The phenomenology of intersubjectivity is well-trod terrain, often seeming to be a deeply worn rut that leads any steps entering it to move over and over again through the same concepts and texts in a closed field where little real progress is made. It seems that only if one bolts the field and introduces ideas and criticisms from outside this phenomenological round that any meaningful advance becomes possible. The power of texts that originally were striking and stimulating has waned.

Moreover the very term "intersubjectivity" is suspect because of its implied affirmation that egoic subjectivity is the basis upon which to understand human community. Outside Husserl's phenomenology, in contrast, it is almost taken for granted that human community is not first established by what an "I" does, but that rather the actions of an "I" emerge from community structures that are antecedent to egoic subjective performances.

One can, however, formulate this alternative within phenomenology as well. We can ask: Is human community a community of subjects, so that community means a group of independent subjects working in coordination, "intersubjectivity," or is the joining of subjects in a community other than and prior to the coordination of individuals acting as each an autonomous power, so that any act of autonomous decision is dependent upon conditions and structures that precede and found the actions of subjects?

What I wish to do in this short essay is to indicate how phenomenology must itself, out of its very own programmatic principles, raise this very point, and do so in a way that requires continuing and radicalized reconsideration.

I. Programmatic Principles

Phenomenology is from the beginning a method. But "method" in phenomenology means something beyond the familiar set of investigative techniques and broad conceptual devices"epoche," for example, and "free fantasy variation" disclosing "essences," or concepts such as "intention" and "constitution"; there is a more fundamental sense of "method" that we get in the one treatise on method that we have from Husserl's Freiburg phenomenological workshop. I mean the essay entitled "The Idea of a Transcendental Idea of Method," otherwise known as the

"Sixth Cartesian Meditation" written by Eugen Fink for Husserl in 1932.' "Method" here means a radical demand beyond any such set of conceptual techniques or beyond merely general methodicalness. It means the relentless systematic self-critique and self-reinterpretation that is the dynamic heart of the "phenomenological reduction" and phenomenological investigation as such.

Beginning as it must with concrete actual experience, phenomenology tries to bring the world and entities and actions within it into focus beyond the naivete and presupposed settled meaning of the conceptions that frame one's already obtaining acquaintance with the matters to be investigated, whether these conceptions arise within ordinary human discourse or from philosophic tradition. The prime example of this is naming the field of phenomena "subjective," and the agency of access to that field "subjectivity." Accordingly, too, the process of "constitution" by which phenomena are "objects" for the "subject," discovered by reflection upon one's own conscious experiencing of the consolidation of things as "objects," gets characterized as "subjectivity," even if this subjectivity is termed "transcendental." Finally, since one's own human consciousness is fundamentally a living performance, the ultimate originative process of constitution is characterized also as a life, "transcendental" life.

Now, just what "life" means when applied both to human conscious being and "transcendental constituting process" is rather obscure; but one thing is clear. It is in the temporality of human conscious being that for phenomenology the most profound level of "life-process" is to be found, and that therefore "transcendental life" to best characterized as itself temporalization-proto-temporalization (Urzeitigung). …

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